The “after” picture
In my previous story I had decided that the major shortcoming of my 1972 F100 was no longer something I could live with, namely the lack of four wheel drive. While I liked the truck a lot and it still looked good, the body was definitely deteriorating from my amateur body work and a few winters. As with the last truck the change of seasons into spring had me searching for a new ride.
Once again the local newspaper provided the truck I was looking for. A 1986 F150 4X4, plain as plain could be. It had fresh paint, the coveted by some 300 6 Cylinder and a 4 speed. It was exactly what I wanted. At the time I didn’t know much about the 6 cylinder engine however. It seemed like a backwards step; a smaller engine for a 4X4 truck. Everyone I talked to set me straight however and I went in knowing what a legendary engine it was.
Not the engine from the subject truck, but a more recent acquisition
I went to see it after work one weekend afternoon. It was indeed fresh paint, but definitely a backyard job. The owner had converted it from a single tone brown to two tone brown and white. The liberal use of gravel guard hid what was no doubt a bunch of filler but the seller did have an actual small body shop in his backyard. Inside, it was filthy and well used. It had a rubber floor mat which was worn through in places, a well worn vinyl seat and that was it. An AM Radio appeared to be the sole option other than the F250 spring pack in the rear, giving it a pronounced downward slant. Pretty much what I wanted. The kicker? 275,000 kilometers (170,000 miles) on the clock. And since the speedometer didn’t work I was suspicious of how many kilometers were actually on it, although the owner assured me the speedometer had “just quit”. Sometime in the last 100,000 km I assumed.
He was asking $4700 and I knew I needed a few things for it so I couldn’t pay that. I was persistent if nothing else so I commenced negotiations. We settled finally on $4100, I think just to shut me up, with the stipulation it was as-is, where is. As in he was not re-assembling it after the paint job. So after catching a ride to the sellers house with a certified cheque, I carefully drove it with no grill, bumpers, mirrors, lights, door handles, and tailgate to the hangar I worked at. The truck was what I expected. It ran great, drove just fine and the 300-6 was everything I had heard it would be – better than the 302 it replaced in my opinion.
A rare picture of the truck at home, not moving
I got it to the shop without getting pulled over (no insurance either) and started work. We put it together, and that was pretty much the last time that truck sat still.
Working two jobs I drove a lot, and I used it for work for the aviation job quite a bit as we were operating helicopters and often it was easier just to use my own truck. The owner was good about buying gas and whatever else so it worked out fine. It did a lot of miles out in the bush full of fuel barrels, or hauling helicopter equipment such as firefighting buckets and aerial seeding rigs. I was a busy 19 year old too, hanging out with friends and trying out the 4 wheel drive as much as possible. Often that summer the hood was still warm from the night before when I got up to go back to one of my jobs.
It was really a great truck. The aforementioned 6 cylinder was everything it was supposed to be – strong, reliable and indestructible. The shockingly low oil pressure worried me, but not the engine. I put a Stewart Warner gauge kit on it to reassure me it actually made pressure, and it mostly did. The truck had the Borg Warner T-18 four speed with the granny non-synchro low gear. Starting out in 3rd gear was not a problem if one desired. With the transmission in first and the transfer case in 4-low, I could literally, and sometimes did, walk faster when negotiating a tricky trail. It was a great 4X4 and dished out everything I could throw at it.
With our new found wealth and full time jobs, my buddy and I invested in a boat. The Sears brand 12’ aluminum caught our eyes one day and for $500 ($250 each) it, along with a 1966 4 HP Evinrude it was ours. It even came with one paddle. We immediately set out to find all of the fishing lakes in our area, including and especially all of the ones that were really difficult to get to. We found a few roads that challenged even our lack of common sense and found out how far the truck could twist before we blew rivets out of the boat that was strapped securely to the top of the box.
At one of Those lakes, with a new headache rack I found somewhere
Winter brought us to snowmobiling season and the truck was pressed into service towing a home made trailer with both sleds on it up and down a variety of poorly maintained winter logging roads. I learned a lot about driving on winter logging roads after a few terrifying experiences sliding sideways, forward and/or backwards down a few hills. I couldn’t afford winter tires or chains (or chose not to spend the money on them anyway) and learned some hard lessons but no damage.
Slow crawling and excessive idling caused it to heat up so after a year of ownership it required a new radiator. Other than that it was pretty much bullet proof. A couple of U-joints here and there, and it was good to go. Some new shocks reduced the bone jarring ride from the heavy rear springs and of course the mandatory stereo modifications.
After a very busy summer of 1996 with a ton of driving, fishing, camping and working it was time to do something with my life. I was signed up for my first term of Aircraft Maintenance training near Winnipeg, Manitoba. It was a 1900 KM drive to school and the truck performed great all across the prairies. I got my first sustained taste of what ended up being a record cold Prairie winter. By late November the temperature was -40 (Celsius, Fahrenheit all the same at -40 . …) but the 300-6 would still start although I consented to plugging in the block heater.
When I left for home, it was almost Christmas. The weather took a turn for the worse which I would have previously thought was impossible. I loaded the truck in the morning, drove the few blocks to school and left it idling for the duration of my final exam. The rad was blocked with the obligatory prairie winter front – a piece of cardboard between the grill and the rad. I taped the passenger door shut to seal it off and the rear sliding window as well. When I finished the exam, I hit the road with no delay. 6 hours later, and only 300 km west I finally crossed the border into the Province of Saskatchewan, and made it safely to my overnight stop with family in Regina.
Something like this, but with more snow, for 800 miles
Somewhere near Maple Creek, Saskatchewan I realized I was likely not going to make the next fuel stop. The truck had two tanks and the levels were dropping at an alarming rate. When I pulled over to check it out the engine promptly quit. A little worried to say the least I pried the frozen hood open and saw the carb and air cleaner encrusted in ice and snow. I couldn’t get the automatic choke to release no doubt due to -35 or so outside air temp and high winds. I figured I was not shutting it off anyway, so off came my size 13 steel toed boot and I gently smashed the plastic automatic choke off the side of the carb. With a tie wrap I held the choke wide open and headed west once again, this time using a little less fuel. I made it home by about 10PM that night after a total of 28 hours behind the windshield.
I came back to a new job, and other changes in my life. The truck stayed with me and dealt well with the 80 km daily commute to my new job. By that time the truck was showing about 360,000 km (225,000 miles) but still ran great. It required a clutch in the spring but that was relatively painless. The questionable body work was showing through and lots of hard driving was making it look pretty rough now. Time for a paint job.
I sourced out a new front fender, and new-used tail gate as the previous aftermarket tailgate installed by the former owner had succumbed to one too many snowmobile/ATV/dirt bike/45 gallon drums and exploded into pieces the previous year and was replaced with a nice 2X10 I found at the dump. I bought all the supplies, and went at it at our family’s shop conveniently located across from a body shop whose owner, still a good friend of mine today, let me use his paint booth.
I put it into primer in our own shop then rolled it across to the booth for the spray. My buddy and the co-owner of our boat, arrived after work to help paint it. We had both taught ourselves painting at our previous employer and were pretty OK at it, or at least we thought so. We flipped a coin; I got the front half and he did the back half. With a metallic dark brown it turned out very well with only a couple of blemishes.
Painted, parked and ready for sale – but still missing a tailgate for some reason
I had thought about selling the truck previous to this, but after painting it I had second thoughts. It did look really good . . . . maybe a lift kit, new tires? My Dad offered his advice – sell it while it looks good. So that’s what I did. I found another vehicle – see if you can guess what it was – and put the truck up for sale after 2 years and 2 months of ownership. It sold relatively quickly despite the 375,000 km on it for more than I paid for it, which was certainly the last time that happened. When I last saw the truck, it was about 8 years later and it was well over 600,000 km and still ticking. I’m sure it’s still out there somewhere serving someone well.
The next vehicle was a departure from the previous two in some ways. And I never forgot how much I admired the 6 cylinder engine, which showed up in another truck in the fleet in the distant future.
Great story on a great truck. Fixing the choke in -35C weather certainly builds character. With today’s maintenance less engines and fuel injection, would many people be able to do this?
Army used those engines as emergency power for smaller IDS (Intruder Detection Systems) which included lights. As an MP, I had to check the systems and test run the engines weekly at max load. I have no idea how old some of those engines were, but I never had one fail. Some of the larger units used 6-71 Detroits. They didn’t start near as reliably as the Fords. Often took a shot of ether to wake them up.
You remind me of the cold weather driving from my youth. The big piece of cardboard covering 80% of the radiator was the only way I could ever get my slant 6 Scamp to make good heat. It was a lot cheaper than the new thermostats I had tried and worked better too.
It sounds like you had a really good truck. I always liked those 4 speeds with the granny low. My 63 F-100 mated that box to the earlier generation of the Ford 6. That engine never gave me the slightest trouble and always started right up.
JP, it was a great truck. The one that replaced it was better in some ways but it took everything I could throw at it. When I saw it many years later I definitely felt the nostalgia for the older trucks.
Exploring on old washed out roads we used to bungee cord the steering wheel to the brake pedal, put it in 1st/4 low and walk in front to clear the way . . . it mostly went without incident.
The wife and I are kinda looking for an older, good condition pickup truck since hauling motorcycles is the one place where the minivan falls short (I don’t have any small dirt bikes). I really love this generation of Fords, as I look at them as being the last of the honest pickup trucks, before they turned into the jacked-up, luxed-up monsters they are today.
Oh to find one of them in 2WD with a long bed in nice condition. I don’t need 4WD, and would probably want to lower any pickup that I got anyway. Little matter of getting a Harley up and down the ramp.
I actually just got an 86 F150. It has the 300-6, the 4-speed, and 2WD. It’s going to be my first truck. The body’s kinda rough, and the interior is trashed, but after sitting on a farm without moving for four years, who can expect anything less? But what amazed me was the fact that that sucker fired right up after we put a new fuel pump on it. You know what they say: Old Fords never die.
Great writeup! I love these trucks- We personally put almost 600,000 miles on two Gen 9 (’92- ’96) F150’s with a minimum of trauma or drama.
Thank you PolarBear. A popular modification around here was to use the next generation bed on these trucks to combat the wheel well rust problems on the box. The rust would have been the ultimate downfall of this truck I’m sure, not the drive train.
1986 302 vs. 300
300 – 120 hp @ 3,400 rpm 223 lb-ft @ 1,600 rpm 14 city / 16 hwy
302 – 185 hp @ 3,800 rpm 270 lb-ft @ 2,400 rpm 12 city / 14 hwy
One big difference – that year, the 302 got EFI while the 300 was carbureted and it was still 14% less efficient than the Six. The previous years 302 had these specs:
1985 302 135 hp @ 3,400 rpm 243 lb-ft @ 2,000 rpm
I had an 86 F150 2wd that I bought new. It had the 300 with the 4 speed overdrive manual. I drove it for 14 years. Maine winters were hard on it between the salt and hitting a patch of black ice at 50 mph and broadsiding a snowbank. I drove it for the last year with very low oil pressure, low to the point that it sounded like a diesel. That truck was like an old friend.
What a great truck! Love the brown you painted it. That’s the thing about pickups, they hold value pretty well and have a long useful life. Lots of this era Ford’s are still prowling about here in the Central Valley.
And I’m betting a decent one will cost around 5 grand at least.
Your tale was a fun read. And it’s surprising how similar it is to my own experiences being that age, even though we are separated by about a decade in time, a county in politics, and locations in the continent. (You in the prairie provinces of Canada and me in California’s Central Valley)
My main truck when I was that age was a ’73 Chebby. Long bed, 2wd, 350/350. And yes we boated at the lakes, snowmobiled in winter, dirt biked, went shooting, cruised for girls on Friday night, (epic fail), and rebuilt and repainted a lot. Main buddy rolled with a ’72 Chevy. Dad was the Ford guy, though I loved this generation of Ford’s then and now.
Thanks for the story.
Thanks Heath, I do like the Chev’s of that era as well. Great looking trucks and you still see plenty of them around here, unrestored and daily drivers.
Sounds like we had very similar experiences – I’m told kids don’t cruise the main drag around here anymore though, which is a shame in my opinion.
Cruising like we did as youngs has dried up in my area. The kids certainly don’t get drivers licences at the ages and rates we did, the stats show an alarming drop off.
We do have a small active tuner culture in town of young folk, mostly guys, and they come to the car events with their slammed Honda’s. That’s nice to see. But if they get 3 cars to show up at an event that’s a lot.
Cars don’t seem to be playing the same role in young people’s lives that they did for you and me and our friends. Of all the teens I know, and I know, uh, hundreds as I’m a teacher, I can count on one, maybe two, hands the number of kids that cars are playing an instrumental part in their lives. And their cars in the high school parking lot here are rarely modified in any way, or loved over, scrubbed, polished, etc. Just appliances that get them places.
Even for some oldies. New York Times’ today-new landing page design has dropped the Automotive section out of the featured categories into the base panel.
I guess there’s still plenty of life in the 240 in my truck, based on your experience. 🙂
But at the rate I’m adding miles (about 1500-2000 per year), it’s going to outlive me by a long shot.
Looks-wise, the ’80-86 bullnoses are still my favorite F-Series.
Nice and you got a good rum out of it, a mate of mine has or had an earlier version F100 4×4 short bed ute with canopy hese been driving from far north QLD to Tasmania annually for work for years last time I saw it he was hunting another steering box I’m not sure of its mileage but every mechanical component has been replaced by him since buying it used in the mid 80s, it has the 351 motor and it quite useless off road on muddy hillsides despite having a locking rear axle, another mate ran a F250 2WD with the 300 motor for years with out any major issues that was a 79 model he traded it for a 84 351 automatic with ambulance body very heavy 3 tonnes empty and hard on fuel untill converted LPG and the engine modified to suit then it went and towed fine and not so hard on the pocket.
Funny, the square lines would let it fit right in with today’s trucks
One day, in our driveway, my ‘86 F150 sat next to my brother’s ‘60 F100 Panel. (The panel was my ride in high school, while my brother was away at college.) Curious lad that I was, I wondered: “How many parts are interchangeable between the 300ci of the ‘86 and the 223ci of the ‘60? The 300 ran with the 223 distributor. And most important, I got everything right respective before my brother got home.
It’s amazing how much mileage Ford got out of that design and was able to keep it fairly fresh.
OBS Ford owners are dedicated too. I had a fairly crusty 95 F-150 extended cab that I bought for $800, put close to 40,000 miles on over three years The tires were shot, trans was toast, I lost the title and still had people fighting over it for $500 this last spring.
I’m guessing the SuperCab in the background of one picture up there was the replacement.
Sean; The SuperCab was my Dad’s – 1985 F250 4X4 6.9 Diesel. It soldiered on until about 2000, got painted and sold and probably made someone a fine, albeit very slow truck.
Great read Kevin. That sure was am excellent truck. It’s the simplicity and ruggedness of these old trucks that I miss in the modern iterations.
My friends dad had a very similar tuck, an 84 F-150 with the 300 six and 4-speed but 2wd. He replaced an 82 F-150 with a 302 that he described as so gutless a stiff headwind would slow it down. He used his 84 F-150 to haul a hugely overloaded gooseneck trailer from Manitoba to Ontario when he moved. Even with all the massive hills by Lake Superior the 300 pulled fine. Eventually the Ontario salt killed it off, but it ran like a top when it went to the junk yard. He always said it was his best truck, even though he later had diesel and even a loaded up King Ranch.
Great read, thanks for sharing!
Thanks Vince C – moving from a 302 to the 300-6 was an eye opener for me. Now strangely I’ve ended up with one of each again. Not sure how that happened but I still prefer the 6!
Sharing my experience with 302 vs 300 F Series trucks. I would say that leaded fuel (pre ’79) 302’s were better than the 300 by virtue of its broader power band while just as reliable.
Post ’79 unleaded 302’s up until the first year EFI ’86 were pretty bad. The post ’79 300’s maintained their driveability and were thus a better bet during the early eighties in my experience.